OXNARD, Calif. - One wrist surgery, one knee injury and almost four months after the Cowboys traded up to select Morris Claiborne with the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft, the cornerback is set to suit up for his first preseason game Saturday against the Chargers.
Recovery from wrist surgery sidelined Claiborne until training camp, where he sprained the MCL in his left knee during the first full-pads practice, holding him out another week.
"That's the longest I've ever, ever been sitting out," Claiborne said of the two injuries. "But I mean, if I wanted to play, if I wanted to be here, I had to do what I was told."
Claiborne returned for the last full-pads practice before travelling with the team to Monday's preseason opener against Oakland. He sat out against the Raiders and continued practicing the rest of the week with a sleeve on his knee, which he ditched during Thursday's walkthrough.
The addition of the first-round pick from LSU adds to a replenished secondary, which includes free agent pickup Brandon Carr and new starting safety Barry Church.
"I'm very excited," Claiborne said. "It's been a while since I've played in a game. I've missed a little time in practice and can't get those reps back, but I'm trying to make the most of it when I'm out there."
If there's anyone as excited as Claiborne about his return, it's defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who said the Cowboys "can't wait to unleash" their first-round pick and send him out with the starters to see how he handles a live game situation.
Claiborne admitted there's a learning curve to playing cornerback in the NFL, pointing out the 5-yard mark to bump receivers as a rule he's still adjusting to. He also said he still thinks too much when he's on the field.
As the draft's top defensive player selected, he holds himself to a higher standard than others while learning the defense.
"Certain mistakes I make, some of the coaches they expect me to make them," he said. "But I don't expect myself to make them. I just try to learn from them and try to fix it."
While injured, Claiborne studied the playbook and worked 1-on-1 with defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson to prepare for his return. But no drills can prepare a rookie for facing NFL receivers.
Claiborne's worked with the first-team in the two practices prior to Friday's departure for San Diego, facing one of the league's most talented wide receivers in Dez Bryant every day.
"All those guys are good," Claiborne said. "That's probably the most difficult thing. You go into a game in college, you probably have one or two guys that, 'Hey, we've got to definitely watch these two guys.' Here, everybody's good all across the board."
Claiborne will get a look at every kind of wide receiver this weekend when he takes on the Chargers, with the speed of Robert Meachem and the size of Malcom Floyd, as well as tight end Antonio Gates. "It'll be a good test for him, a good chance to evaluate him and see how he plays," said safety Gerald Sensabaugh. "He's going to be a good player for us. I can't wait to get out there and see what he has."